The Weekender: SKYFALL

on Thursday, Nov. 8th

50 years of Bond. James Bond. 50 years and 23 movies, not counting Never Say Never Again or the first Casino Royale.

When Daniel Craig, an acomplished but reativly unknown actor, took over the role in 2006 the Bond legacy was waning. The previous incarnation, that of Pierce Brosnan, had started off strong with Goldeneye and quickly develoved into post-modern camp: invisible cars and Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist. The jury is still out on which one was more implausable.

So the producers behind the series took a gamble and went for a clean reboot with a serious take on the first of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, Casino Royale. They turned to Martin Campbell, who had directed Goldeneye, and what we got was a barn burner. Intense parkour based action sequences, a relationship between Bond and his leading lady that actually mattered. A Bond who wasn’t quite yet 007, but was getting there.

The follow-up, Quantum of Solace, was a collasal misstep that took the character agency out of Bond’s hands right at the moment– while he was seeking revenge for the death of his love– when we needed it most. Perhaps Casino Royale was a fluke.

Tomorrow Skyfall, the third James Bond movie to feature Craig in the role, opens. While Skyfall is not as tight and driven as Casino Royale, the film gets us back to what is working so well with the current incarnation of 007. Craig’s Bond is a broken, broken man. The backstory of 007 has always floated around the edges of the series: orphaned at a young age, Bond shares a bit of psychological history with Batman. And while Bruce Wayne has Alfred as his surrogate parent, Bond has M– in the person of Dame Judi Dench– who stands as both surrogate for Queen, Country and Mother.

The plot of Skyfall rips a few of the classic Bond tropes out of the playbook and makes them pay off in spectactular fashion… even if it takes a while to get going. A shadowy figure has engineered the theft of NATO’s embedded agent list (shades of the NOC list from Mission Impossible), and is leveaging that to destroy M professionaly and personally.

The film, under the meticulous direction of Oscar winner Sam Mendes, is gorgeous to look at even while it plods through the first half of it’s second act. Bit by bit Mendes puts the film’s world together, and by extension lays the groundwork for what will likely be the rest of the Craig series. If Royale was the origin story for Bond, Skyfall represents the origin story for the modern MI-6. A justification for human resourced espionage in a post-Cold War world.

After three excelent– if unemotional– set pieces the villian is finally revealed in the form of Javier Bardem. With Bardem’s arrival as “Mr. Silva” the film comes alive. Each confrontation between Bond and Silva is so good that to give away any element would be a disservice. Suffice it to say: Mendes knows how to direct actors, and the Bond franchise has discovered that it is best when it gives 007 human scale challeneges that take just a little bit more than your average man can muster.

More like this please.

SKYFALL was screened at the AFI FEST 2012 presented by Audi as this year’s secret screening.

DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes.


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